Designing Tomorrow: A New Collaborative Studio Teaches Architecture Students the Power of AI in Building Sustainable Cities

Students gain hands-on experience with the technologies shaping the future of urban design.

The next generation of architecture technology is here. A new studio class in collaboration with London-based Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA) offers fifth-year bachelor of architecture, master of architecture and master of urban design students hands-on experience with the latest in generative artificial intelligence (AI) and advanced computational design tools to help them design smarter, more sustainable cities.

The curriculum addresses the challenges posed by rapid urbanization and explores how urban design and architecture can contribute to sustainable urban development.

The 16-week course was developed over two years by ZHA’s Computation and Design Group with Jefferson’s Dr. Edgar Stach and Barbara Klinkhammer, co-founders of the Jefferson Institute for Smart and Healthy Cities.

“Architects and designers bring a distinct perspective, artistic sensibility and understanding of human needs, ensuring that designs go beyond functional requirements and resonate with people on an emotional level,” says Klinkhammer, dean of the College of Architecture and the Built Environment.

Example student work from the AI in architecture studio
Daniel Habeeb and his teammates designed this project and the one above in the new architecture studio that gives students hands-on experience with the latest generative AI and advanced computational design tools.

“As students learn to work with AI, they harness its computational power while infusing their unique creativity into architectural concepts, ultimately taking their ideas and designs further,” she adds. “AI will play a central role in the profession, and it’s imminent that we teach students how to use AI responsibly for even greater creativity and efficiency.”

The course is taught by designers Jianfei Chu, Taizhong Chen and Dr. Shajay Bhooshan, head of computation and design at ZHA.

“As designers of our present and future cities, we need to go beyond logistics and focus instead on improving the urban experience and quality of life for our citizens,” says Dr. Bhooshan, known for his commitment to technology and sustainability in architectural and urban design.

“The current use of AI in architecture, particularly large language models and text-to-image technologies, is in its infancy but deeply influential,” he continues. “ZHA aims to enhance our design capacities and services through AI, seeking applications that benefit the design, its users and designers and the need for the sustainable use of resources.”

AI will play a central role in the profession, and it’s imminent that we teach students how to use AI responsibly for even greater creativity and efficiency. –Barbara Klinkhammer, College of Architecture and the Built Environment Dean

In this past spring’s inaugural session, students learned how to articulate design concepts and prompt AI tools to bring their designs to life. Using AI image generators like Midjourney, a popular tool for creative professionals to brainstorm and visualize new ideas, the students could generate a design, like a city rendering, and refine it until it matched their vision.

“The depth of the process was astonishing, from the specific wording of prompts to the detailed parameters set for each command,” says Daniel Habeeb, a 2024 bachelor of architecture graduate who took the studio. “It’s a very iterative process, but it allows us to try new things and generate ideas quickly—ideas we could either run with or scrap and start over.”

For the final project, students designed a template of a “smart city,” an urban environment that prioritizes efficiency and is driven by the community’s needs. Habeeb and his peers took a bottom-up approach to city development: “We built for people first, buildings second—a walkable, human-friendly environment with plenty of green spaces and urban parks.”

The course is taught by Dr. Shajay Bhooshan, Taizhong Chen and Jianfei Chu.
Dr. Shajay Bhooshan, Taizhong Chen and Jianfei Chu (left-right) teach the new studio developed in collaboration with Jefferson’s Dr. Edgar Stach and Barbara Klinkhammer.

To simulate how these cities would evolve and adapt, the class worked with the video game City Skylines, a tool some urban designers have used for years.

“The game is similar to SimCity, allowing you to observe citizens’ responses to your built environment over time,” Dr. Bhooshan explains. “This gamified approach encourages students to develop innovative solutions to real-life urban design challenges, focusing on quality of life and sustainability.”

Dr. Bhooshan adds that this approach could lead to more purpose-fit forms of AI in architectural and urban design.

“The game lets us see the practical impact of our designs and helps us design based on data rather than assumptions,” Habeeb says. “For example, we can simulate how traffic flow affects pedestrians or how community satisfaction improves as the city becomes more sustainable.”

Cities aren’t frozen in time—they must evolve to meet societal needs.
–Dr. Shajay Bhooshan

Dr. Bhooshan looks forward to expanding the curriculum to more students in the coming semesters, especially as many U.S. cities face rapid development to accommodate a growing population.

“Cities aren’t frozen in time—they must evolve to meet societal needs,” he says. “We must find ways to do this sustainably, economically and aesthetically while preserving each city’s historical character. We’re counting on young people, like our students, to bring new ideas to the forefront and lead the way in designing a better future.”

For Habeeb, taking advantage of cutting-edge technologies is the way there. “Being introduced to AI is crucial—it’s the future,” he says. “Learning from such an advanced team at a renowned firm has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I’m thrilled to take these skills with me into my career.”

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